Opposite on a console table in the entrance hall sit a 1950s ceramic bowl shaped like a leaf and identity photos from Studio Douamna, enlarged, painted, retouched and coloured in the 1950s, from the Jean-Marc Tingaud collection. This page: here the dado is clad in marble in the 1940s fashion. In the foreground, black-and- white striped cotton tightly covers a large square table.
CANARIES, CRYSTAL AND CARNATIONS
Isabelle Lallemang’s Tangier apartment twinkles with chandlers and twitters with songbirds, a theatrical setting enriched by flowers in vases and on fabrics. Also Known as Topolina, the french émigrée has turned fashion designer in her fifties, infusing her clothes and her Moroccan pop-up shops with the same dash of feminine noir de vivre. Marie-France Boyer finds herself beguiled by birds, baubles and blooms. Photography: Roland Beaufre
Pervious pages: a reissued Saarinen « Tulip » dining set from Knoll, sprayed with gloss car paint, dominates the dining room. The partition, which descends to low marble walls, is sculpted in plaster in the Spanish/Moorish style dating from the building’s 1940s origins. This page, clockwise from top: above the sofa hangs a photograph of Mohamed V, sultan of Morocco from 1927 to 1953 and king from 1957 to 1961; a « Tulip » armchair perches on miscellaneous Boucherouite rugs over the original 1940s tiles; Venetian-style mirrors from Tangier, mid-century tapestries and a 1960s plastic console table decorate the workshop; a clothes rail with next season’s coat is partially obscured by a vintage cage with canaries. Oppositee: a view from the workshop into the living room, with the cutting table in the foreground. On the far wall hangs a silkscreen print by Roger Bezombes.
In Isabelle’s bedroom a fright-iron crown overlooks a floral bedspread and crocheted throw. Bougainvillaea and banana trees can be spied through the french windows
The life of Toppling – Isabelle Lallemang It should be sung. Especially as the interior of her Tangier apartment would make the perfect backdrop. She used this lemon-yellow flat as her summer workshop when the 50 degree heat of Marrakesh, where she lives and work the rest of the year, prevents this hyperactive creature of fashion from doing things at her usual hectic pace. Yet Isabelle talks calmly in a childlike voice. With her backcombed hair, tube skirt and ruched blouse, taking small steps in her wedge sandals and smoking her long slender Vogue cigarette, she could be a René Grunau illustration for Christian Dior.
Direct, spontaneous and cheerful, Isabelle was born into a strict family in which her father, a gendarme, moved house often. She rebelled. She hated school. In Brest, here she spent her teenage years, by some miracle she met a lady who taught her the demanding technique of pattern making. She loved it. At the age of 17 Isabelle was pretty, made her own clothes and dreamed of Audrey Hepburn. As she had passed he baccalauréat, her father allowed her to enrol at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Rennes; but it was in Angers, now married ‘ in haste’ and with a young family, that she studied art history and opened a ‘rather bohemian’ home-furnishing shop, where fabrics by the likes of Pierre Frrey, Le Manach, Tricia Guild and Manuel Canovas were far ahead of their time for a provincial town, as well as small workshop for cushion covers and curtains. the shop did surprisingly well.
‘At that time I liked partying, flowers, music champagne, all that sort of thing’, says Topolina.
So one thing led to another and a few years later we find her in Trouville. Married four times, with three children, she was the chef patron of a restaurent bearing her name, with two guest-rooms above.
‘I had decorated a space with items picked up here and there and I invited people in as though into my own home’.
After ten years of generally successful ventures, the restaurant licence was not renewed, and Topolina took up the invitation of a client ‘ to go to Marrakech and clear my head’.
In Morocco, the medina, the colours, the birdcages in the souks, the Boucherouite rag, the many artisans… all enchanted her. Approaching 50, she decided to say, relying on something she was very familiar with- she went back to one of her first loves: fashion and pattern making. ‘ To begin with, I planned to make a few designs ans sell them, and then I had a nice article in a local newspaper and that sparked things off… ‘ that was six years ago. Today this tireless worker opens a small pop-up shop in Tangier each summer, as well as the ones in Marrakech. Her son has come to lend a hand . ‘ I find it very difficult to be patient with customers; my son is a commerceial genius, so while I do the making, the inventing, the decorating… the rest is all him.’
Topolina’s apartment showcases her vitality, her joie de vivre and her radiant femininity. It is in a 1940s building in the city centre, between the Madini perfumery and the lovely bookshop les Insolites. A large hallway opens into the kitchen on the right, a corridor leading to the bedrooms, and a suite pf there rooms overlooking the street; it’s really one room, since the décor is the same everywhere. It is all lemon yellow – except for the bedroom in beautiful subdued blue, opening onto exuberant bougainvillaea and banana trees. As though she were painting a canvas using every possible colour, Isabelle has strewn the period floors with Boucherouite rugs, and draped the windows as well as two 1930s bays, the seats and the cushions with printed fabrics on a black or turquoise background, Everything is symmetrical; put together hastily; painted like a theatre set.
In the dining room, apart from the reissued Saarinen ‘ Tulip’ dining set by Knoll – ‘spray – painted by an old friend who had a garage’ – there is little furniture. At each end of the three large conjoined rooms, two wide sofas covered with cushions face one another, each alongside a 1960s plastic console table – and then there’s the cutting table, the undeniable stare the premises. But what gives the décor its intimacy; its femininity ( a bit like Trica Guild’s interiors in the 1980s) is the printed textiles. ‘I buy fabrics as well as furniture in the flea markets, in the Casa Barata ( Tangier’s flea market) and in France in vides-greniers ( garage sales), at factory closures and so on … For examples , I’m crazy about African batiks at the moment, and yesterday evening I’d arranged to meet young Nigerian who was supposed to be bringing me extensive stock from his country. I found myself in a room measuring three meters by by four in which eight blokes were making fish stew… Iwaited for two hours in the steam of cooking smells and eventually gave up and left. But I love these new fabrics. I could already see the design I was going to cut from my batik. When that occurs I have to make it straight away, as though I had to wear it myself that very minute.’
One the walls throughout the apartment, Neo-Baroque Venetian – style mirrors picked up in Tangier alternate with paintings of flowers, nostalgic royal portraits from the 1940s , and framed 1970s tapestries of flowers, birds ans animals on a black background ( at present she is collecting embroidered stags). Crystal chandeliers, flowers ( always white: gladioli arum lilies, carnations), and cages in which budgerigars and canaries chip, complete a romantic and ephemeral setting into which slot clothes rails just as they would be in a shop. Indeed, there is the same sense of continuity between her interiors and her fashion. Topolina may well open a shop in Mumbai, Rome or Mexico. And in the same way as one collection supersedes another, the apartment might tomorrow be green or purple.